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When Mom and Dad Are Smokers: Modeling Behavior

May 12, 2015

By Amelia Orozco

When Mom and Dad Are Smokers: Modeling Behavior | When you become a parent, lifestyle choices matter. Firsthand, secondhand, and thirdhand smoke affect kids in ways you might not even realize, like frequent sickness and asthma. Quitting smoking will model a positive behavior with your children. | A boy shakes his finger at his dad, who is about to light a cigarette.

What was once a status symbol is now a stubborn habit you wish you didn’t have. Smoking, while it may have seemed like the cool thing to do back in high school, is anything but that today. The constant pressure to lead healthy lives combined with bans on smoking in many public spaces such as restaurants and bars have caused smokers to become part of the minority.

Aside from new laws or the negative stigma that may convince some smokers to quit, becoming a parent is another reason to stop. Although it is a tough habit to kick, doing so helps parents create an all-around healthy environment for their children.

Lifestyle Choices Matter
Whether you are buying groceries, exercising, talking to a friend, or having a smoke, each activity has an impact on your son or daughter. Your children model their behavior based on yours. For example:

  • If the items in your grocery cart are unhealthy, your son or daughter may adopt the same habit of eating unwholesome food.
  • If your children constantly see you taking part in physical activity and enjoying it, they will soon want to join you in this positive experience.
  • If your language is negative and derogatory when they hear you talk to a friend or a stranger, they will believe it is acceptable to use swear words.
  • Whether you smoke in front of your children or step outside, your son or daughter may subconsciously accept smoking as a natural part of life.

The good news is that parents can take a holistic approach by making overall smart lifestyle choices and in effect, positively affect their children.

Avoid Sickness
Some of the reasons to not smoke around your son or daughter are the direct effects of any form of the smoke. This includes secondhand smoke, which is a combination of the smoke that emits directly from the cigarette and from the smoker’s mouth. Thirdhand smoke is that which settles on furniture and clothing that later makes its way into a child’s mouth and skin.

These indirect forms of smoke contain more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic and cause cancer. If a child suffers from asthma, the secondhand smoke can make breathing even more difficult. Whether a child suffers from asthma or not, cigarette smoke causes the airways to become swollen, narrow, and filled with a sticky mucus.

Tobacco smoke is responsible for 150,000 to 300,000 respiratory infections in babies every year. In addition, it causes a higher rate of preventable throat and ear infections. Up to 26,000 new cases of childhood asthma are reported each year because of tobacco smoke.

Another reason to stop altogether is to make sure you will be around longer for your children. Some of the fatal illnesses that affect adults who smoke are coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.

Be Their Hero
In today’s information-saturated society with images flooding the Internet and television, children seek someone to look up to and emulate. Whether they pretend to be princesses or monsters, chances are your sons or daughters first learned this behavior from their environment and the media. You, as your child’s first teacher, can also be their first role model.

Take advantage of this unique opportunity to make an impact on your son or daughter. You may struggle to quit smoking, to eat healthy, or just to complete a project at home. Whichever it may be, demonstrating your stamina and overall joy in getting it done will make a lasting impression on your children. It’s easy to take these little moments for granted, but often they are the most striking on young, impressionable minds.

Learn how to model positive behavior for your child in our our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon.


Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.
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